The Magnificent Trufflepigs (Switch): COMPLETED!

At first glance, and indeed, at several subsequent glances, The Magnificent Trufflepigs looks and feels very much like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture if it was a series of The Detectorists. It has the same slow, pondering walk through realistic British countryside aesthetic, no combat, and a story which just gets more interesting as you progress. Plus, you have a metal detector and have to dig stuff up.

But the detectoring is just a delivery mechanism for the story, which has you called up by an old friend to help search a local farm for an earring to match one found years earlier. You set off, separately to cover more ground, to discover buried nails, scraps of machinery and bottle caps while discussing how your friend’s life is starting to unravel a bit.

That’s all there is to it – about two hours of digging and chatting in a relaxed, stressless way – until the story reaches the end and there’s a revelation which I have to say I did see coming so wasn’t really surprised. It didn’t matter because it was the journey, the chat and the low-impact gameplay which was excellent and a nice diversion from most other games. And it’s oh so pretty and atmospheric.

Axiom Verge 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

I do love a good metroidvania, and I’ve played a fair few in the last year or so, and the original Axiom Verge was a great metroidvania. It’ll come a no surprise, then, that I pounced on Axiom Verge 2 the second I was able to get it from the eShop, and here I am telling you I’ve completed it.

And not just completed, but 100%ed – all items, all the map, everything. Which is a sign of a fantastic game in this genre, as far as I’m concerned.

Axiom Verge 2 isn’t really a sequel to the first game, as it’s more of a tangental story that is linked but separate for the most part. It does away with the “glitch” mechanics of the original, but replaces them with a sort of subspace, low res, corruption of the main world that you can slip in and out of in a similar way to how the two worlds work in Link to the Past. This lets you reach areas which would otherwise be blocked, by sort of skipping round them via a fourth dimension.

The plot is complicated, and references worlds that are linked, different civilisations on at least three of these worlds (one of which is Earth), but it’s interesting if difficult to get your head round. I recall the first game had a similar plot complexity and I’m sure recalling that better would shine more light here, but actually, you can mostly ignore it without detriment.

It’s the gameplay that really shines here, and Axiom Verge 2 eschews the normal combat-filled exploration of the game type with the scales tilted far more in favour of exploring than smacking stuff. In fact, you don’t really have much in the way of ranged weapons like before, and every boss in the game (bar one, I think) can be ignored entirely unless you’re after 100% completion. There are even more pacifistic ways of taking down foes too, as you’re able to hack most of them and turn them off, slow them down, or even turn them against each other.

You have to be this spiderbot thing when you’re in the Breach low-res areas.

Exploration is rewarding, both in terms of eureka moments when a puzzle is solved or an obtuse route is discovered, as well as a new power-up or upgrade is collected. I’m one for colouring in all of the map in these games and there’s a great map to fill in here. In fact, unlike other metroidvania games, the map itself is like a very small set of thumbnails of each location, rather than just a blank box.

And the music! Thomas Happ created some bizarre but incredible tracks for the first game and he’s managed the same here. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and the scratchy chiptunes for the “breach” areas are superb too, matching the low resolution aesthetic perfectly.

Someone broke some stuff then.

One of my favourite games this year, for sure.

Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World (Switch): COMPLETED!

A long, long time ago, I played about 15 minutes of the original Mega Drive version of this game in a local game shop. It was all in Japanese but I liked the look of it. Not quite as long ago, but still over a decade ago, Sega released the first English translated version of it as part of a Wonder Boy pack on Xbox Live Arcade. I bought it, but never played it.

Then this came along. A remake of Monster World IV, with new graphics and save system, on the Switch. And, if you bought the special edition physical game card you got the original game (translated) included on the card for free. Bargain, right? Sure, it looked a bit like a 2000s Flash game, but after the fantastic remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the excellent Monster Boy, it’ll be great anyway, yeah?

Well, not really. It hasn’t aged well.

Firstly, I should say that once you’re actually playing it, the graphics aren’t nearly as bad as they look in screenshots. They’re not quite right, but they’re fine. What is more of a problem is that the levels (it’s not open world like the other related games I mentioned) are just… boring. Each is themed as per every 1990s platformer, but they’re sparse. You walk along, fight one simple enemy, then walk along and fight another. Sometimes you might have to fight two. A couple of times, there were three. But there’s a lot of walking around doing very little.

Some parts of the levels are like mazes that have loads of near-identical areas, loop round themselves if you take a wrong turn (or have to backtrack), and these artificially lengthen the game. Especially the bits you have to retread as the baddies are all gone, so you get long, empty walks.

Another issue is the “2.5D” layering the levels, and the hub town especially, employ. At various points, you can step into or out of the screen into a different horizontal plane. It’s been used a lot in other games, but here it seems mostly pointless as it’s underused and forced as part of your route rather than a way to find secrets. It makes the mazes needlessly more confusing, especially on the mountain level.

You get a companion who is a flying ball/dragon/bird thing part way into the game which acts as a double-jump and glide replacement, which makes you seem much more nimble and the platforming becomes more fun, only (spoilers) the game then nerfs him before taking him away completely later on.

Good points include the music, which is excellent, and Asha’s animation (especially the ridiculous bum-wiggle she does when opening a chest), which is much better than most of the rest of the characters and baddies. The “Persian” theme, however, just serves to prompt comparison with the Shantae games, and most games don’t have a hope in hell competing with their animation. You can also save your progress wherever you like, rather than at the badly spaced, often missable, and far too infrequent Save Sages of the Mega Drive version. They’re still here, but are now pointless.

In all, I’m pretty disappointed with Asha in Monster World. I did have some fun, and I did enjoy it enough to finish it without it being a slog, but it is a game that despite the new paint and trousers, is still stuck in the past. It was an also-ran compared to the others in the series even back then though, so I can’t complain too much.

Minecraft Dungeons (Switch): COMPLETED!

When you pay for the Switch Online service, every so often they give you the full, complete versions of retail games for free – for a few days. Then they stop working. This week, they let you download and play Minecraft Dungeons, and my daughter and I completed it before our free trial was up.

That’s not to say it’s short, although it’s nowhere near as long as I expected (partly because two large additional areas are walled off behind DLC payments), it’s just we played it a lot in a short amount of time.

Although it looks like Minecraft, and has a lot of the same creatures and sound effects, Minecraft Dungeons is actually more like Diablo. You take on a series of isometric levels, killing loads of baddies, getting better loot, and making Numbers Go Up. It’s much more simplistic than Diablo, and it doesn’t have anywhere near as much content, variety, or items to collect as Diablo III, but it’s also more suitable for kids and there’s literally no learning curve just to figure out the character and weapon upgrade system.

It’s also a lot easier. The only time we had any problems is when we started a level that was waaaaay above our current player level. Sure, when you complete it there’s a much harder New Game+, and yes, for most levels you can pick a higher recommended player level than your current one, but that seems to make it impossible rather than “harder”.

We did enjoy it a lot though, and if I’d have known it was as good as it was beforehand, I’d probably have ended up buying it. However, if you’re going to, I’d recommend the PlayStation or Xbox versions instead of the Switch if jerky, stuttering framerates are likely to offend – the Switch version is full of it. Not enough to put me off, but that’s mainly because I wasn’t paying for it.

New Super Lucky’s Tale (Switch): COMPLETED!

New Super Lucky’s Tale is no Mario 64 or Yooka-Laylee. It’s a nice little (mostly) 3D platformer in that style, however, but without the acrobatics and inventiveness of the former and with none of the fancy moves and humour of that latter. It’s a very pared down experience in many ways, especially compared to those, but actually, it was a pleasant surprise.

It doesn’t do a lot – you collect things and jump around and there are odd characters to talk to and levels within themed worlds, but it’s still fun and it looks nice in its own cartoony art style. Sometimes jumping is tricky in 3D, and there seem to be more 2D levels than I’d prefer, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. I understand this a remake of a game called Super Lucky’s Tale which came out a few years earlier and had a number of issues which this fixed, although I’ve not played that to compare.

Wuppo (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’d seen Wuppo on the eShop a few times and it looked like the sort of game I’d want to play – silly, nonsensical stuff. It reminded me a bit of Pikuniku, although is obviously very different, and then it was incredibly cheap so I folded and here we are.

The story is (and apologies for getting lost in advance) that you are a Wum – a sort of blob creature – who lives in a hotel called The Wumhouse. In the world are are two other sentient native species, and another who were warlike and wiped out ages ago (or were they?). And now there are some space aliens who look like lions. Because you’re very messy with ice cream, you’re kicked out of the Wumhouse and so begins an adventure where you meet characters from these species, fight them, visit an underground city, come across massive bosses like a giant eel and a huge ice cream, and discover more about what you have to do through old filmstrips you play on projectors.

And play volleyball, deliver newspapers by shooting them into peoples’ faces, visit a theme park, paint a picture, and discover a face in the sky who likes to eat mud. It’s all woven together, sort of, into something mostly coherent but utterly absurd, where you end up having to save the world.

It plays out mostly as a platformer, with your bouncy little blob able to jump, and double jump, and with the right item shoot gel in the direction of the right stick in order to kill things. Quickly, you realise that the game itself isn’t the only weird thing here, as the controls are too. For example, to get into the inventory you press a direction on the d-pad rather than press +. To jump, you’d expect a face button but as this may conflict with the right stick aiming, a shoulder button is used instead – only it’s on the left, not the right like in other games where this is an issue. Both these things felt wrong for the entire duration of the game and I never got used to them. Giving items is also needlessly fiddly, as is buying things and selecting items from the inventory.

In order to progress you’re not really given enough information as to what to do, which when coupled with being given “quests” which seem to have no use or bearing on the plot (but you don’t know this at the time), it can be tricky figuring out what to do or where to go next. Also, there’s the problem of “is that platform just out of reach and I need an item or different route, or am I just mistiming my jump, or is it even a platform at all”, which is frustrating.

So while I did love the world, and the art style, and how quirky and ridiculous it all is, too many small problems in Wuppo stop me from fully recommending it. For cheaps though? You can do a lot worse.

Alwa’s Legacy (Switch): COMPLETED!

After enjoying Alwa’s Awakening so much, and it was actually Alwa’s Legacy I’d originally intended to play until I realised Awakening came first and, well, existed, of course I was going to jump right into Legacy afterwards.

It is, basically, more of the same. You’re still Zoe, you still have a magic staff, and you can still use your three powers – shoot a lightning bolt, create a block and create a bubble. This time, however, the graphics are all 16-bit in style rather than 8, and you get additional abilities too.

Once obtained, you can air-dash (a bit like how you do in Celeste), warp through some walls, breath longer underwater, and upgrade the number of health segments you have. The way you upgrade your original powers is different too – previously you just found items to do that, but now you spend the orbs you collect on improvements – most of which are new to this game. You can also remove the upgrades too, allowing you to re-spend the orbs on different upgrades, meaning if you don’t need one for a bit you can make use of another. There are also a few tweaks to the controls to accommodate more skills and to make use of the fact 16-bit machines had more buttons!

The plot isn’t much different to before – beat four bosses then take down Vicar. Each boss has its own area with different gimmicks: Two of the cleverer ones include one where you can raise and lower the water level to open up paths or solve puzzles, and the other lets you swap between past and future versions of the “dungeon”, making vines grow or lasers disappear.

I found Legacy’s enemies, especially the bosses, much much easier than those in Awakening, but found the puzzles and “how do I get to X” issues much less obvious than before. Completing it 100% was a bit harder too as hidden areas were much more hidden and there’s no controller rumble to alert you to them – although there is an item late on that warns you there’s a secret in a room, but not where in the room! Overall, though, the improvements and other changes made this more enjoyable than the original game, which I’d already thought was great. Alwa’s Legacy is not in the same league as Super Metroid or Hollow Knight, but it’s still a great Metroidvania and definitely worth picking up.

Alwa’s Awakening (Switch): COMPLETED!

In my side-quest to play more Metroidvania games (which I didn’t realise was a side-quest but it seems to have become one in recent months), I was looking through lists of well-regarded, eShop-available, games in the genre. Listed frequently was Alwa’s Legacy, so I didn’t buy that as I found it was a sequel to Alwa’s Awakening which was about £2.50 so I bought that instead.

And I’m glad I did because although it does nothing special, it’s a solid and enjoyable game with some unusual ideas for the genre. Firstly, it’s built with a NES aesthetic (in fact, there is a NES version which was developed recently) with limited colours and two button controls. Nothing new there, but it’s a good example of how to do that well.

Any Metroidvania needs to have decent unlockable powers to make things interesting, and Alwa’s Awakening manages to do this without opting for the staple double-jump. In fact, there are only three powers – create a block (which you can push or stand on), create a bubble (which rises and you can hop on briefly), and shoot a lightning bolt. The block is upgraded later so it can be used as a raft in water, and the bubble improved so you can ride it until you bang your head, but that’s it. It does a lot with these though, including some tricky platforming sections which see you switching magic on the fly, puzzles where you have to create blocks and push blocks in specific ways, and unusual methods of defeating difficult bosses.

Importantly, it has the “colouring in the map” mechanic that is so important to these games, and there are hidden and semi-hidden secrets to double the damage you can do and orbs to collect which can knock some HP off bosses before you start.

It’s also a lot longer than I was expecting. I thought I was in for a couple of hours, but it was nearer 8 when beat the final boss and I suspect there’s a different ending once I return and find the remaining handful of orbs I’d missed.

Picross S3 (Switch): COMPLETED!

More Picross, innit.

I mean, I’m not really sure what else there is to say. I think it’s the longest of the Jupiter-made games, as it took me over 35 hours to do all the puzzles, and it also introduces colour picross to the series. I didn’t like the slight change in logic at first, but it soon clicked and then I wished there were more of them.

Much as I love picross, I think I might give them a little break now before I pick up Picross S4!

Human Fall Flat (Switch): COMPLETED!

This is one of those games I’ve had my eye on for ages but for whatever reason have never bought. Well, I probably have it on Steam or something but that doesn’t count. Anyway, it was on offer this week and has recently had yet another level added and I’d just finished Scott Pilgrim and wanted another co-op game so it all fell into place and, well, here we are.

Human Fall Flat is one of those purposefully awkward to control physics based games, like Surgeon Simulator or Octodad. The idea is just to reach the end of each level, but to do so requires manipulating (read: flailing around with) objects and switches and the occasional vehicle. Or connecting cables or pipes up, or making difficult jumps with your waddley man who has no climbing skills but can just about pull himself up if you manage to grab the edge of a platform. Imagine a normal 3D platformer only you control your character’s arms directly. with the trigger buttons and right stick. It’s tricky.

switchI remember this scene from Jaws.

In a “normal” game, you’d press a button to turn a wheel, or press a button to use a key. Here, you have to grab the wheel and move the arm, or patiently line the key up exactly in the keyhole then grab and rotate the key. It’s not quite frustrating, but does get close. It gets even closer when your daughter is playing supposedly co-op, but in fact, gets in the way just to annoy. Unplugs the cable I spent ages lining up. Runs off with the axe we need to chop downa. tree. Or, and this is my favourite of all her irritating doings, grabs my leg just as I leap off something, preventing me from making the jump, and plummeting to both our deaths. Again.

But it’s very good, silly fun.

I came in like a wrecking ball.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game (Switch): COMPLETED!

Almost 11 years ago, I bought, played, completed and absolutely adored literally everything about the Scott Pilgrim game on XBLA. Last year, a rerelease was announced for current platforms, and to show my support I bought the Switch physical version from Limited Run back in January this year as they were the only place offering it. Well, that turned out to be a horror show in terms of it actually being dispatched and delivered (long story short, it took about 45 days to arrive), but thankfully, the game was worth it.

It’s the same as it was before, although with all the original DLC – mostly extra characters who are essentially just redrawn versions of existing characters – now included. Not that I needed any of the DLC because I played as Scott himself. And, now she’s not A Tiny Baby like she was when the XBLA version came out, I played co-op with my daughter as Kim. And it was excellent from start to finish, and just as I remembered it.

My only issue now is that I need to figure out if it’s as good as River City Girls or not. That game is slicker, and has even better animation and probably better music, but it’s still a tough call. Thankfully, they’re both on the Switch so I don’t have to choose!

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (Switch): COMPLETED!

There was no way I was ever going to not buy a game called Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion. It was even more likely I’d buy it when I saw the graphics, in their Zelda sort of way. And I’m glad I did get it because it was lovely.

Bad things first though. It’s short. Very short. I was expecting a Zelda length epic, but got maybe two hours tops out of it. Swapping items requires pressing Y and then choosing from a list of things, many of which you can’t actually use as they’re passive or to pass on to other characters. Since you swap between your sword and your watering can very frequently, it’s annoying you can’t assign each to a different button, or have a button to swap between the two. And speaking of buttons, the game uses B to “accept” and A to “cancel” and it’s very very annoying because that’s just wrong.

This barn could be considered a dungeon, I suppose?

But the good outweighs the bad. It’s a funny game (as you’d expect from the title) where you play as a naughty turnip who has been evicted from his greenhouse by Mayor Onion because he hasn’t paid his taxes. To make up for this, Mayor Onion gives you a number of tasks to perform, most of which have several diversions en-route. The other fruit and vegetables you meet are are quirky, from the gherkin mafia boss locked in a jar, to the baby acorn who gives you his leaf as a downpayment on some real estate. Gameplay is in the Zelda mould, with overworld wandering (and killing snails and worms) and buiildings and forests that act as short dungeons.

When you collect the little hearts (which replenish health), you burp,

You come across a few bosses, there are puzzles involving watering watermelons and portals, bombfruit to kick, babies to return to parents, books (and flyers, and bills, and anything else made of paper) to rip up, and lots of side missions which are all stupid as you uncover stuff about both your past and why all the vegetation is sentient. A compact little game with some laughs and and a few niggles, but definitely worth a play. Perhaps not at full price (about £13 I think) given the ease and length, but certainly in a sale.

Timespinner (Switch): COMPLETED!

The problem with Metroidvania games, like Kunai which I are completed just last week, is they’re somewhat moreish. Thankfully, Timespinner – which I’ve had my eye on for a while and was on sale recently – was there to feed my habit. And it is excellent.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s no Hollow Knight or Axiom Verge, but it is a really well put together action platformer with some time travel elements and nice pixel graphics, as well as some great music and a confusing but engrossing story. A story about you, a Time Messenger who has been trained to give up their history in case of attack so you can go back in time and warn your clan in advance. In a way, it’s a bit like that short-lived sci-fi series Seven Days. Only very different.

These creepy demons are a bit… sexy.

You end up a thousand years in the past, rather than a few days because of $storyreason, and flick between then and a few weeks after The Event trying to put right what once went wrong as another time-based sci-fi series would put it. Mostly this involves the usual genre thing of unlocking abilities that allow you to reach new areas, although time travel plays a role in opening a few areas too. Not many, though – and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity for the whole time element of the game to be more frequently used for puzzles and such as it’s disappointingly rare that anything you do in one period has a major effect in the other meaning they act rather more like two different worlds that happen to have very similar maps.

The gameplay is excellent though, so it doesn’t really matter much. There’s a lot of variety in the weapons you can equip (although I was happy with a big swingy sword for most of the game) and you also have additional passive powers and larger special attacks to choose too. And you can pause time, which is rarely needed to the point where I forgot it even existed for most of the game.

Placeholder text to be replaced with hammer time joke later.

Overall, it’s a great example of its genre, but falls a little short when it comes to making use of the main things that differentiate it from other similar titles. After completing it, you really should do what I did and go back to complete one of the optional quests in order to unlock the good, and whaaaaaaat-invoking, ending where you break time itself, No, really.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (Switch): COMPLETED!

This is a strange little thing. It’s a 4th wall breaking point and click game where you interact with things like the status bars and icons as if they’re normal objects. So, for example, there’s a bit where you need to dig a hole, but you’ve nothing to dig with. You keep getting pop-up adverts for cereal, and you can grab the spoon in the advert and use that to dig the hole. There’s a section where you come across a TV and playing on the TV – once you get it working – is a Lucasarts style adventure game about Sherlock Holmes. Only you’re able to turn the TV around and operate the game from behind the scenes, changing the set, and even making the look, talk and search icons drop off the screen so you can use them elsewhere.

It means it’s very different to any other point and click game I’ve ever played, and some of the out of the box thinking needed for some of the puzzles makes you feel very clever.

It’s varied, with several different subverted game genres to play through, is packed with game references and comments on the gaming industry (there’s a particularly long rant about free to play games, for example), and there’s even a hint system if you get stuck (although I didn’t need it – it isn’t that difficult).

My only real issue with it is that you converse with the game itself, who constantly tells you whats going on, is baffled by how your logic works, and sadly, often gives the puzzle solution away with not so subtle hints before you’ve had a chance to work it out yourself.